The Landfill Directive – is it the end of

The Landfill Directive and other recently introduced legislation and regulation have major implications for the regeneration of contaminated land and the operation of landfill sites, both themes that feature at this year's ICU exhibition and conference at the NEC. Complementing LAWE's special preview of the NEC event we review current issues and technology in both the contaminated land and landfill sectors. In this first specially contributed article, Jo Strange, Associate Director, and Mike Summersgill, Consultant, both of Card Geotechnics Ltd, assess the impact of the Landfill Directive on the future of brownfield redevelopment

Remediation of contaminated sites has for many years taken advantage of inexpensive, convenient and plentiful landfill facilities. The implementation of the next phase of the European Landfill Directive (99/31/EC) on 16 July 2004 effectively removes this option by banning direct disposal of untreated contaminated soil to landfill. In doing so it has, potentially, far reaching impacts not only on the waste industry but on brownfield developers.
The final value of a brownfield site is determined by the potential range of end uses and hence development options, taking account of remediation costs and residual risks. The traditional “quick fix” was often “dig and dump”. It is a versatile solution that deals with most types of contamination and can be quickly carried out. It removes recognisable residual risk from a site and its success can be easily confirmed – but it is very expensive in environmental terms.

The Landfill Directive aims to dramatically reduce disposal of contaminated soils to landfill. In the context of brownfield development the upcoming key requirements are:

Waste must be pre-treated before being landfilled.
Certain wastes cannot be landfilled in future eg, clinical, tyres and certain “hazardous” waste including those with >6% total organic carbon, (TOC) This criteria may include organic top soils.

Prohibition of pre-mixing or dilution of contaminated wastes to meet waste acceptance criteria for disposal.

The reaction of the waste management industry has been a massive reduction, currently estimated to drop from 200 to 10, in the number of landfills licensed to accept Hazardous Wastes. This will have a major cost implication both in increased disposal costs and transportation costs for removing material to more distant facilities.

Furthermore, current waste definitions, including Special Waste, will be superseded by European acceptance criteria, which will not be finalised until 2005. In terms of these and interim waste acceptance criteria (WAC) being adopted by the Environment Agency, the level of compliance testing required is much more onerous than current EA guidance. Therefore, classification of wastes will also be a much more expensive process.

Future remediation strategies, as well as current strategies for sites due for redevelopment after 16 July 2004, will be forced to avoid the disposal of soils, where possible, by using alternative and commercially available clean-up/treatment technologies. Much research is being done by contractors and technical bodies into suitable sustainable remediation techniques. However, whilst there is a possible opportunity for innovation and, in the right circumstances, “cutting -edge” solutions, these may not find favour with developers, especially if the costs are perceived to be higher. Some may prefer to accept residual risk and adopt encapsulation solutions on simpler sites – but is encapsulation really publicly acceptable for future generations?

Impact on costs

The cost of remediation not only impacts the economics of site development, but also adversely impacts the value of such land held in land banks as part of property portfolios. If developers chose not to redevelop brownfield sites, the impacts of the continuing implementation of the Landfill Directive are likely to be counter-productive in terms of national environmental improvement. It will slow redevelopment of brownfield sites, especially where land values are relatively low, away from the south-east.

As a result, there is strong lobbying taking place of the ODPM and DEFRA with respect to the anticipated adverse impacts on urban regeneration, once the latest section of the LD is implemented. These lobbyists are asking for the Government to relax landfill controls on historically contaminated soils or provide alternative support for brownfield projects.

However, until the Directive is in operation, the exact impacts are unclear and will depend on the enforcement approach by the Environment Agency. It is, however, generally accepted that contaminated soil generated by remediation works will have to be stockpiled rather than landfilled, whilst decisions on waste treatment and disposal are made. This is also currently subject to restrictive waster management regulations. In continental Europe, stockpiling for treatment (in soil “hospitals”) is seen as an environmental benefit, as is the positive re-use of such treated soil whereas in the UK, under the same European Directives, treated soil is classified as a waste. In many cases, it may not even go back in the same hole that it was dug from – not really “sustainability” in action?

It will still be possible to remediate sites for redevelopment but this will require consultants to design cost effective alternative clean-up solutions. In order to do this, the regulators will have to be sufficiently confident to accept more technological solutions and realistic risk assessments, whilst the waste licensing requirements will have to be revised to allow flexibility with respect to soil treatment in the regeneration of brownfield sites.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie